Getting a sneak peek at some of the top competition for down the road, the Carrollton High School boys' track and field team delivered a dominant display to run away with the Carrollton Invitational on Saturday.
The host Trojans finished with 94.5 team points, well ahead of second-place Newnan (67) and third-place Rome (57) in the 21-team event. On the girls' side, Stockbridge took home top honors with 99 points, while the host Lady Trojans finished as the runner-up with 75 points, edging out region rival Rome (56) in third. Other local participants included Villa Rica, Heard County, Haralson County and Bremen.
Trojan head coach Craig Musselwhite was encouraged by the performance from his squad, noting how his troops in the field continue to lead the way while the guys on the track are beginning to pick it up, as well.
"I thought it was a pretty good field event day. It's going to be one of our keys in having a chance to win a state meet. We've got to score some points in the field," Musselwhite said. "Anybody that saw Fayette County run and Starr's Mill wasn't at their best (Saturday). They had some kids at home. But I think we're in the mix with about five teams that's going to have a chance to win it. We've got some work to do on the track. Gary (Savage) is still hurt. We've got to get him back to 100 percent. If he gets back to 100 percent, we'll have a chance to put some points on the track."
Senior thrower Jeremiah Pierce continued his incredible season to lead the Trojans in the field, earning the high-point award for the Invitational by sweeping the shot put and discus with first-place heaves of 57-5 in the shot put and 117-8 in the discus.
"Jeremiah continues to do what Jeremiah does. We preach to them all the time. We don't care how far you throw it at the state meet. We've got to get 10 points for the Trojans," Musselwhite said.
Rounding out the first-place individual finishers for the Trojans were Joe Street in the pole vault (14-9.25) and Nic Cade in the long jump (22-3.5).
Also delivering strong efforts in the field were Drew Taylor with a second-place showing in the pole vault (13-0), while Jake Musselwhite took third in the discus (139-2) and fourth-place finishes were recorded by Caden Elliott in the high jump (5-10), Chaz Chambliss in the shot put (47-3.5) and Cade in the triple jump (43-10.5). Mike Higgins added a seventh in the high jump (5-10).
"There were some young kids that did real well. Drew Taylor jumped 13 feet and that's a P.R. for him. Those are points at the state meet. That could be second at the state meet," Musselwhite said.
When the action shifted to the track in the afternoon, senior sprinter and Purdue University football signee Jordan Bonner placed third in the 100 (10.85) and fourth in the 200 (22.17), while Bryce McNealy took fourth in the 400 (49.88) and Zaylen Cook was eighth in the 110 hurdles (16.29). The sprint relay placed third (42.85) and the mile relay came in eighth (3:35.74). The absence of Savage in the hurdles cost Carrollton some points and Musselwhite is hopeful of getting him back sooner rather than later.
"I thought Jordan Bonner had a really good day. He ran a 10.85 and a 21.17 in the 200 and he didn't even run through the last part. He eased up about 10 meters out. So he really showed me that he could take the next step in the sprints," Musselwhite said.
Looking ahead toward region and the sectional meets leading up to state in May, Musselwhite said it's a matter of getting and staying healthy, fine-tuning certain aspects of each individual's event and staying loyal to the ultimate goal.
"We've got to get our hurdler (Savage) well and do some of our specialized training to start taking some of these times down a little bit more than what they are right now. That's very possible," Musselwhite said.
"The kids have got to keep believing in what we're doing. They've got to take to coaching. They can't be selfish. They've got to go out and put it on the line week-in and week-out to get better. Track is one of those things that if you're going to run fast, you've got to train fast to run fast at meets. You can't take weekends off at this point or just give a half-effort. You've got to put it on the line every weekend and start establishing where you sit in the region and sectional and state."
For the Lady Trojans, youth has been the name of the game this spring and it shined bright on Saturday for Gwen Engram's squad.
Carrollton was led by a first-place finish from freshman pole vaulter Payton Phillips, who established a new meet record with her vault of 10-8, while Taylor Wyatt took fourth in the shot put (31-4) and fifth in the discus with a personal-best (102-3) and Kaysi Franklin finished fifth in the triple jump (33-6).
On the track, the 400-meter relay team took second (48.60), Dajah Sheppard placed third in the 100 (12.41), Franklin was fourth in the 100 hurdles (15.31) and eighth in the 300 hurdles (48.83) with Katie Dortch coming in fourth in the 300 hurdles (47.11) and seventh in the 100 hurdles (16.15).
Freshman Scout Jennings also had a solid day by turning in a fifth-place finish in the 400 (59.89) and sixth-place effort in the 200 (25.82), while Olivia Dukes took sixth in the 100 (12.51) and seventh in the 200 (25.99). Kylie Bearden added a fifth in the 800 (2:30.11) and distance standout Elizabeth Aguilera came in seventh in the mile (6:01.87) and eighth in the 3,200 (13:43.99). The mile relay quartet also scored points with a fourth-place performance (4:05.92).
"We are very young. We only have two seniors in the program with Katie Dortch and Shardae Edmondson and mostly everybody else is freshmen and sophomores," Engram said. "Several of them P.R.'d in their events (Saturday). I'm real pleased that with each week we've progressed and gotten better. We hope to keep doing that each week in the future."
Engram feels good about where the team is at right now and the direction it is headed, especially with so much young talent in the mix.
"I think now we are ahead of where we've been in the past. I think that's going to have good results at the end," Engram said.
Moving forward, the veteran head coach is hopeful of staying on course and healthy for the stretch run of the season.
"The biggest thing now that we need to work on is everybody staying healthy and keep working hard," Engram said.